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Communication Skills

September 24, 2017

In aviation we have been taught to be keenly sensitive to accurate, easily understood communication. There should be no confusion about “American 276, climb to and maintain flight level 330, over”, that is immediately followed by an answering communication, “Roger, Center, American 276 climbing to flight level 330”. An accurate clear and concise transmission answered by an equally accurate and clear response is critical to the safety of flight.


Today, many of us fail to be true to those standards as we communicate with others. To begin with, our initial communication may be unclear and confusing and we often have very little knowledge about how accurately that is received and understood. The use of social media with its written emails and tweets, and texting, etc., is often devoid of essential elements that will allow all who receive to truly fully understand. Since most, if not all, of these are transmitted without the aid of a human voice the emotion and tone of the transmission leaves a great deal of room for interpretation by the recipient. Sometimes this can lead to confusion and misinterpretation that can be as disastrous as it would be in air traffic. Sometimes the results can be catastrophic if in no other way than irreparable damage to important relationships.

There are some so-called leaders who actually take pride as they brag an acknowledgement that they are blunt and to the point. They say what they want to say with very little feeling or concern for the way it may be received. Since it is often with little or no empathy or compassion, they often leave the recipient feeling hurt and/or confused. These “blunt” people will tell you, “Okay, so it was taken badly. But that’s just the way I am.”


My father once told me that when he hears a person say those words, he wonders that if they recognize that is the way they are, would it not be worthwhile for them to simply change the way they are? As a child I was taught to think carefully about what you are about to say to someone else. Quickly predict how that is likely to be received. Then, and only then, is it wise to speak. In short, what does it take to consider someone else’s feelings as we express ours? I have discovered that it takes very little effort or time to frame our conversation in such a way to be the least offensive and insulting and still make our point. I was moved to share this with you as an acquaintance of mine who held a managerial position made comments about work I had performed in a way that was emotionally painful and downright insulting. It was obvious to me that there were any number of words and phrases that could have been used that would leave me feeling that we had a wholesome relationship and he joined me in a mutual effort to achieve goals he considered important.


Hey, listen. Whatever happened to being cordial and demonstrating respect for other people? Is this the new and modern approach toward rapidly getting things done with a total disregard to the potential damage we’re inflicting on other parties? If that is the way of today and tomorrow, I would like to suggest that we go back to my dad’s advice; Change! First of all, remember the requirement for accurate transmission and reception as used in Air Traffic Control. And when the words are written, acknowledge the importance of writing them in such a way that you are accurately stating something with words that will protect the accuracy of your message without incurring unnecessary misunderstanding, confusion or pain on the recipient.


Am I making too much of all this? Not only “No”, but “Heck No!” As our world shrinks and our relationships become more complex and important, remembering basic rules of communication gets more and more significant every day. One other thing my dad said was one of the values of speaking in person is to remain alert to the effect your words have on another person. Whether you are speaking to one person or an assembly of a thousand, tailor how you communicate as you read the facial and body language evident in response to what you have said and the way you said it. If you truly don’t care how your communication is being received, then be prepared for the inevitable results.


So, speak clearly but think first and you are likely to enjoy positive relationships consistently throughout your life. And, trust me, relationships like that can go a long way toward making it possible for all of your flights to end with a happy landing of success and understanding.



Enjoy your flight!

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